The possibility of saving Iraq as a viable Arab nation is in question, even if American public opinion forces the withdrawal of US troops. For some American hawks, a dismembered Iraq may not be ideal but would no longer be a strategic threat.
Those were the morbid impressions I formed after two days of discussions with Iraqis gathered in Amman, Jordan, at an unprecedented meeting initiated by Code Pink and attended by Cindy Sheehan and a smattering of peace activists that included Iraq Veterans Against the War and United for Peace and Justice.
That so many Iraqi representatives wanted to meet with antiwar Americans was a hopeful sign. Attending were official representatives of the Shiite coalition now holding power, the minority Sunni bloc, the anti-occupation Muslim Scholars Association, parliamentarians and torture victims from Abu Ghraib. Their broad consensus favored a specific timetable for American withdrawal combined with efforts to “fix the problems” of the occupation as the withdrawal proceeds. Recent surveys show that 87 percent of Iraqis hold the same views.
Dr. Habib Jabar, carefully balancing the divisions within his majority Shiite parliamentary bloc, stated that “we don’t need American forces to protect us from each other. We have been here 1,000 years. My wife is a Sunni. I don’t need the Americans to protect her from me.” He is seeking a Shiite consensus to demand that the United Nations Security Council formally end its authorization of the US occupation when it meets this December. At the same time, the US-backed Shiite representative was diplomatically noncommittal on dissolving death squads or the Badr Corps now operating with little or no restraint by the Interior Ministry. Nor did he acknowledge the plans of dominant Shiite leaders like Abdul Aziz al-Hakim for an autonomous Shiite region running from Baghdad south to Basra, which would require mass removals of the Sunni population.
Even Sunni political representatives, while demanding a timetable for withdrawal, increasingly worry that they will be more exposed to vengeful Shiite and Kurdish militias when the Americans leave. The Sunni bloc representative, Salman al-Jumaili, said with frustration, “We want the Americans out tomorrow. But we want negotiated timetables to fill security gaps and prevent a power grab.” He indicated that the nationalist insurgency “is looking for recognition…and a road map to ending the occupation through negotiations.”
These are more nuanced positions than the demands for immediate withdrawal that Code Pink’s Medea Benjamin recalls hearing in Baghdad street interviews three years ago. The qualified Iraqi demands for withdrawal reflect the virtual civil war that has arisen in the wake of the US occupation. Like victims of repeated battery, many Sunnis fear escalating attacks on their civilian population if the streets are dominated by the Badr militia after the Americans leave. They feel pressured by the Americans to abandon their aspirations for a unified Iraqi state, accept minority status in a partitioned country, or join as partners with their American occupiers to fight against pro-Iranian or Al Qaeda forces in Iraq.